If you happen to be one of my friends on the social networking site Facebook, you will know I tend to update my status quite often. For the few uninitiated among you (you know who you are), Facebook allows you to tell your network of online friends what it is that is on your mind. And the space can be used for saying almost anything, from a simple greeting, to poetry, to venting one's disgust over a relationship gone sour. In essence, there is an unlimited amount of ways to go about expressing yourself. Granted this space can be used for some mindless drivel, and I do seem to lean toward the vacuous, but I tend to share my status regularly for the same reasons I write this blog - I crave the attention and feedback I get from others. I see it as an outlet and a vehicle for me to express myself. Perhaps, in some convoluted way, it allows me to be true to myself.
If you saw my status recently you may have read how I was approached by a woman who asked me to buy her some food. This topic is even more germane given the week of November 15-21 is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. There I was sitting alone at a table at the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza food court writing and nursing a milkshake when she appeared. It was odd. I am usually pretty aware of my surroundings but she literally seemed to show up out of nowhere. "Could you buy me some food?" was what she asked me. Simple enough. However, my initial instinct was to say no. Now I didn't speak rudely to her, in fact I think I was quite polite, yet the result was the same - it was no different than if I had completely ignored her request.
Living in Southern California, one is surrounded by the homeless. Hang out in LA and you'll see homeless at the beach and at the park. Homeless at freeway on and off-ramps and homeless in front of convenience stores and at your local filling station. This is not to say that those of you who don't live out here don't have homeless folks in your slice of paradise - in fact I am acutely aware there are plenty of homeless individuals in places with climates much more formidable than what is experienced in sunny SoCal.
She didn't necessarily look the part either. As if there is such a thing as looking the part. Her warm-up suit was a dull white in color, but it didn't look dirty or soiled either. And maybe that is scariest thing. She could easily have been me. Given some of the problems with our economy and joblessness too many of us could find ourselves in the situation this woman appeared to be. According to a 2007 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were an estimated 73,000 plus homeless living in Los Angeles County. The same report estimated almost 142,000 residents of the county experienced some form of homelessness during that year. And this was before the current recession kicked into full gear.
Once I gave my response, I observed her move on to the table behind me where she engaged the women dining there just as she had done with me. They offered her a few morsels of their own lunch and then as quickly as she appeared, she seemed to disappear. But for reasons I can't fully explain, I felt a twinge of guilt - as if I COULD have done something had I really wanted to do so. Moments after she moved on I made a futile attemp to get up make amends. But it was too late. It's not as if she asked for a spare change. She didn't give me a specious story of her car breaking down blocks away and needing money for gas. For all I know she could have been a sociologist or even an angel sent to test me - as if that somehow excuses my behavior. What ever her story was is not important. No, she had a simple yet very specific request and I ignored it. I almost felt as though I failed her.
Would I make a different decision if I were faced with the same situation again? Honestly, I cannot say. I'm still human and I still have my prejudices. However, there's a part of me that knows I can do better.
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" Matt. 25:40.
Well, I gotta scoot...